By Jamie Wall
The only slight glitch on Ross Taylor's incredible innings yesterday at University Oval in Dunedin was that he didn't get to hit the winning runs.
No matter. Taylor's 181* was already being talked up as the greatest innings by a Black Caps batsman, even as Henry Nicholls clipped a low six to backward square, the shot that won the fourth one day international against England.
Nicholls' reaction to being responsible for finishing the game spoke volumes. He was almost embarrassed to have taken the limelight away from Taylor, who had spent most of his innings battling a leg injury.
It was also telling that Martin Guptill and Colin Munro were the first team mates onto the field to sheepishly shake Taylor's hand, given that between them they'd contributed exactly zero runs to the aggregate of 674 on the day.
Highest scores outside top-3 batting positions in ODIs:— Bharath Seervi (@SeerviBharath) March 7, 2018
189* Viv Richards v Eng, 1984
181* Ross Taylor v Eng, today
181 Viv Richards v SL, 1987
Today is Richards' birthday, tomorrow is Taylor's birthday. #NZvEng
Did Ross Taylor just smash a six and then grab his crotch Michael Jackson styles? That was a great moment in Nz cricket history. #Blackcaps— Guy Williams (@guywilliamsguy) March 7, 2018
As far as sporting theatre goes, this was as good as it gets: Taylor had come to the crease after the aforementioned opening duo had failed to trouble the scorers, then set about scoring a run-a-ball hundred - first in partnership with skipper Kane Williamson, then ably assisted by Tom Latham. He then carried on to reach NZ's third highest ODI score, and highest in a second innings.
However, this was more than just a match winning innings for the Black Caps. It was the most definitive statement by Taylor that he is very much in contention for the title of New Zealand's greatest batsman ever.
Any cricket fan in this country has had the debate about just who is number one at the top of that heap. It invariably involves Glenn Turner, the late Martin Crowe, Williamson and Taylor.
Crowe's merits always come with an asterisk attached, given that his career was hampered by a nightmare start when he was clearly picked too young. Williamson has been talked of in the same breath as the two greats of yesteryear, with good reason. His dependability and phenomenal career average have attained cult hero status, and seen him ascend to the captaincy.
It's the same captaincy that Taylor held, briefly, before Brendan McCullum took over. That set of circumstances probably put a bit of a dampener on Taylor's profile, which maybe why his batting exploits have been marvelled at rather than triumphed in the pantheon of the greatest ever.
Not anymore. Taylor's heroics in the most up-against-it situation a batsman coming in at four could be in - two runs on the board, two wickets down, needing seven an over to gun down England's mammoth total, then injuring himself so badly he could barely run between the wickets - must surely propel him to the hypothetical argument as to who is the best.
It sits alongside his 290 against Australia in 2015's drawn test match in Perth, the highest individual score that cricket's number one superpower has ever given up on its home turf, as evidence of his ability to make runs when it counts.
Of course, it's ridiculous to even have to be making a case for Taylor's greatness. He currently has a test average of 48 and an ODI average of 46. He's on track to play 100 tests for New Zealand, a feat only achieved by McCullum and Stephen Fleming.
Ross Taylor averages 59.80 in ODI cricket since the start of 2014. Of those who have played at least 20 innings in that time, only Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers average more. What a player. #NZvENG— Rob Johnston (@RobJ_Cricket) March 7, 2018
The epic one dayer itself probably went a long way to reassuring cricket fans of the format's value, because now this series is set up for a showdown in the last ODI on Saturday at Hagley Oval.
After two deflating T20 series defeats leading up to this battle with England, it was looking like the summer might end up being a fizzer in terms of results - bearing in mind that the thumping of the West Indies was more or less a given.
There's still a bit of work to do, the decider will be tough. Leturu Ross Poutoa Lote Taylor may well not even play due to the injury he picked up, but he can rest easy knowing that he etched his name into the history books already.